News ID: 92066
Publish Date : 04 July 2021 - 22:25

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Dispatches) -- The Taliban have captured a key district in their former bastion of Kandahar after fierce night-time fighting with Afghan government forces, officials said Sunday, sending scores of families fleeing from the area.
The insurgents have pressed on with their campaign to capture territory across Afghanistan’s rural areas since early May when the U.S. military began its final pullout of troops from the violence-wracked country.
The fall of Panjwai district in the southern province of Kandahar comes just two days after U.S. and NATO forces vacated their main Bagram Air Base near Kabul, from where they led operations for two decades.
Over the years, the Taliban and Afghan forces have regularly clashed in and around Panjwai, with the insurgents aiming to seize it given its proximity to Kandahar city, the provincial capital.
The leader of the Taliban, Hibatullah Akhundzada, hails from Panjwai.
The province of Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban, who went on to rule Afghanistan until being overthrown in 2001.
Panjwai district governor Hasti Muhammad said Afghan forces and the Taliban clashed during the night, resulting in government forces retreating from the area.
“The Taliban have captured the district police headquarters and governor’s office building,” he told AFP.
Kandahar provincial council head Sayed Jan Khakriwal confirmed the fall of Panjwai, but accused government forces of “intentionally withdrawing”.
Scores of families of Panjwai fled their homes after the Taliban captured the district, an AFP correspondent reported.
“The Taliban fired on our car as I was fleeing with my family. At least five bullets hit my car,” Giran, a resident of Panjwai told AFP as he took refuge in Kandahar city.
“The Taliban are on top of the mountains and firing at any moving vehicles. The Taliban don’t want peace.”
Assadullah, a commander of border police in the area, said it was only the police force that was fighting against the insurgents. “The army and the commandos who have better military equipment are not fighting at all,” he said.
Panjwai is the fifth district in Kandahar province to fall to the insurgents in recent weeks.
Fighting has raged across several provinces of Afghanistan and the Taliban claim to have seized more than 100 out of nearly 400 districts in the country.
Afghan officials dispute the claims but acknowledge that government troops have retreated from some districts. It is difficult to independently verify the situation.
The sudden exit of foreign troops from Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul, has fuelled concerns the insurgents will ramp up their campaign to capture new territory.
Bagram Air Base has great military and symbolic significance, with foreign forces previously stationed there engaging in torture and mistreatment of Afghans.
Experts say that one of the main reasons for government forces to lose dozens of districts is the lack of U.S. air support in recent weeks.
Afghan authorities who have taken control of Bagram Air Base say they will use it to fight terrorism, and have already re-activated its radar system.
More than 300 Afghan military personnel crossed into Tajikistan from Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province as Taliban fighters advanced toward the border, Tajikistan’s State Committee for National Security said in a statement. The Afghan troops crossed over at about 6:30 p.m. local time Saturday.
“Guided by the principles of humanism and good neighborliness,” the Tajik authorities allowed the retreating Afghan National Defense and Security Forces to cross into Tajikistan, said the statement
The Taliban now control roughly a third of all 421 districts and district centers in Afghanistan.
The gains in northeastern Badakhshan province in recent days have mostly come to the insurgent movement without a fight, said Mohib-ul Rahman, a provincial council member. He blamed Taliban successes on the poor morale of troops who are mostly outnumbered and without resupplies.
“Unfortunately, the majority of the districts were left to Taliban without any fight,” said Rahman. In the last three days, 10 districts fell to Taliban, eight without a fight, he said.
Hundreds of Afghan army, police and intelligence troops surrendered their military outposts and fled to the Badakhshan provincial capital of Faizabad, said Rahman.
Even as a security meeting was being held early Sunday to plot the strengthening of the perimeter around the capital, some senior provincial officials were leaving Faizabad for the capital Kabul, he said.
The areas under Taliban control in

the north are increasingly strategic, running along Afghanistan’s border with central Asian states. Last month the group took control of Imam Sahib, a town in Kunduz province opposite Uzbekistan and gained control of a key trade route.
The inroads in Badakhshan are particularly significant as it is the home province of former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was killed by a bomber in 2011. His son, Salahuddin Rabbani, is part of the current High Council for National Reconciliation. The slain former president also led Afghanistan’s Jamiat-e-Islami, which was the party of famed anti-Taliban fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud, killed by a suicide bomber two days before the 9/11 attacks in America.
The Interior Ministry issued a statement Saturday saying the defeats were temporary although it was not clear how they would regain control.


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